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Might Tom Brady's New Contract Be One Final Motivational Tactic From Bill Belichick?

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- It's just always a confusing time whenever Tom Brady signs his name to a new contract.

Do you remember back in February of 2013, when the initial story for Brady's new extension centered around him taking a massive discount in order to help the Patriots create room to sign other players, only for the details a day later to show that Brady had merely secured himself a hefty raise in guaranteed money? Seemingly every new contract Brady's signed has carried with it its own sense of mystery, and sure enough, this year's chapter in the Tom Brady Contract Saga delivered its own bit of befuddlement.

If you're fully caught up on all things BRADY CONTRACT, feel free to scan down a bit.

It began this time with reports that Brady and the Patriots were close to a "contract extension," with word coming shortly thereafter that a "two-year extension" was agreed upon. The region rejoiced.

Ah, but then, the introduction of some salary cap language that was foreign to most laypeople: "void years." ESPN's Adam Schefter, the world's most trusted football reporter, passed along some more information, though he picked an unfortunate time to issue an uncharacteristic typo. He meant to say "year-to-year deal" but instead wrote "year-to-deal":

The message -- coming out in spurts -- was a bit clunky. Nevertheless, within the span of a few hours, the story was known: Brady and the Patriots agreed to an "extension" by name, but essentially, all the new deal did was assure Brady $8 million more in cash this season, while also freeing up salary cap space for the Patriots through some nifty hoop-jumping. This was the situation, and it was fairly well known.

But then came Monday morning, when Brady put in no effort o try to put any shine on his new deal. The quarterback spoke to the media and was asked if he was relieved to have reached the new agreement.

"It is what it is. That's a good line. So, whoever said it, it's very pertinent," Brady said, giving a nod to the devious genius of Bill Belichick.

After that, a report from Ian Rapoport -- which, really, was almost an identical report to Sunday's news -- set the internet on fire: Tom Brady is set to become a free agent after the 2019 season.

That much was known prior to Monday afternoon's hullabaloo, but perhaps the blunt language of Rapoport's tweet and the imagery of Tom Brady hitting the open market was a bit jarring for some football fans to envision.

OK, now that we're all on the same page.

While Brady's "it is what it is" comment drew the most attention on Monday, a discerning ear may have perked up toward the very end of Brady's chat with the gaggle of reporters swarming him on a Michigan practice field.

"Hopefully I can be an inspiration," Brady said, referencing his plan to play until age 45. "That's really what I've got -- a great opportunity to prove to a lot of people that, you know, they didn't think I could do it, and hopefully I can."

Brady added a kicker: "Well done is better than well said. So I gotta go do it."

Did … did you catch that?

I've got a great opportunity to prove my doubters wrong.

Tom Brady, aged 42, owner of six Super Bowl rings, three MVPs, four Super Bowl MVPs and the unofficial title as the Greatest Of All Time. Already the author of the greatest season ever for a 39-year-old quarterback -- and ditto for age 40 and 41 -- Brady wants to continue to rewrite the rules for aging quarterbacks by putting together a marvelous performance at age 42.

And he thinks the Patriots don't believe in him.

This is a guy who, despite all of the smiles and chuckles with the media, remains maniacally obsessed with winning football games. And given that nobody's ever won more regular-season football games than he has (207, to be exact; Brett Favre is second, with 160), and given that nobody's ever won more postseason games than he has (30; Joe Montana ranks second, with 16), you might think it would be difficult for Brady to still feel the slights that very much made him the quarterback he became.

Yet, as recently as this past weekend, Brady made it clear that he has never left that burning competitiveness die out. Not even a little.

A month earlier, Brady gleefully showed off his latest radar gun reading to show that he had not yet arrived at "the cliff":

Tom Brady's Instagram Story
(Image via Instagram/@TomBrady)

And now, coming off a Super Bowl victory, coming off a highly effective postseason performance, coming off a season where his "weapons" were so depleted that his most-targeted receiver was a running back for the first time ever, Brady is being forced to prove it once again.

"I mean, it's really the reality for most guys in the NFL. I don't want to think I'm any different than anyone else. Football is a tough business. It's a production business," a not-quite-ecstatic Brady told the media Monday. "I'm ready to go this year and that's really what matters. That's where my focus is. … I'm going to go out there and do the best I can this year and see what happens."

Now, the primary (and secondary, and tertiary) reason that Belichick and the Patriots wanted to rework the quarterback's contract was to free contract space. (By the way, even though the Saints drew up a similar contract with void years for fellow son of the '70s Drew Brees, and even though the maneuvering is becoming somewhat common around the league, you can bet that the NFL will work to outlaw this dastardly Belichick move ASAP. That's how these things work.)

But beyond that, would it really be giving Belichick too much credit to point out that his ability to serve as a master motivator has always been as significant a contributor as anything else to this two-decade long run?

That is to say, when it came to working out this contract ... don't you think Bill knew what he was doing?

Now, it's possible that, yes, that would be giving the coach too much credit. NFL Network's Mike Giardi reported that Brady, after not getting the long-term deal he desired, actually grew to want something like the deal he ended up getting. The quarterback, even in "uncharted territory" remains willing to bet on himself.

Technically, that does put the Patriots in the precarious position of potentially having to chase Brady in (gulp) free agency next spring. But, for one, does anybody think that's going to happen? And two, it's a mutually beneficial scenario for both the player and the team.

That's not to say that Brady needed a kick in the glutes. He's got his pliability training for that. But … we do all distinctly remember Belichick's direct words after spending a second-round pick on Jimmy Garoppolo in 2014: "We know what Tom's age and contract situation is." We all distinctly remember Belichick benching Brady in Week 4, forcing him to watch as Garoppolo led a late touchdown drive in the famed Kansas City blowout.

And from that point -- Week 5 of the 2014 season -- through the end of the 2017 season, all Brady did was author arguably the most impressive stretch of quarterbacking the world has ever seen. He completed over 65 percent of his passes, accumulating over 20,000 yards while throwing 152 touchdowns to just 33 interceptions; the Patriots went 55-12, winning two Super Bowls and losing another by one score in a game where Brady threw for 505 yards and three touchdowns. Brady earned an MVP Award and finished second in MVP voting in the other two years, at a time when -- thanks to the commissioner of the league -- the quarterback was not short on doubters.

Then came 2018, considered to be a "down year" by Brady. Yet the quarterback threw just three fewer touchdowns and three more interceptions than he did the year prior, when he was the unanimous winner of the league's MVP Award. His passing yardage dropped a whopping 222 yards from the year prior, when he led the league in passing yards. His completion rate dropped by a half of a percentage point.

He wasn't the best quarterback in the league, but he wasn't exactly a liability, either. And he was plenty good enough to win a Super Bowl, which is generally considered to be very good.

Nevertheless, the standards in Foxboro, as we know, are higher than they are in most locales. And it's not at all a stretch to look at this current situation as one last effort by Belichick to tweak his quarterback just enough to bring out that greatness one last time.

"He never lets you be less than your best, without him telling you, you know, you can be that way ... but you may not want to show up to work the next morning," Brady said prior to Super Bowl LII, when asked how Belichick motivates him. "Because he's going to let you know it. He'll always say, 'Guys, I'm going to tell you the truth. I'm not going to tell you what your parents are going to tell you, I'm not going to tell you what your agent tells you, or your friends. I'm going to tell you how I see it.' And I think there's a lot to be said about that.

"Sometimes it's tough," Brady continued. "Sometimes it's tough stuff that you really don't want to hear. But in the end, it's the best for you and it's the best for the team."

And so it may be, one last time, for old time's sake, the old-timer Belichick trying to get the most out of his old-timer quarterback. Together, the duo has achieved more than any other pair of men in football history. But complacency has never suited either of them very well.

At an age where no quarterback has ever succeeded before in the history of football, Tom Brady will be betting on himself. Bill Belichick will be betting that the results are good for all involved parties.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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